Posts Tagged ‘About the book’

bk_rebeltoursThe Rebel Tours began with a desire to read a book, not to write one.

Neither I nor my brother have knowingly allowed a birthday or Christmas to pass without adding to a formidable collection of cricket paraphernalia: board games, videos, gloves, wickets, bats, balls, and books.

Books about professionals and books about amateurs. Biographies and autobiographies. Compendiums of Wisden and collections of ‘wit and wisdom’. Books that were entertaining, insightful and important, and others that were less so.

Yet when the subject of the rebel tours came up in conversation three years ago, neither of us had even the basic information. Graham Gooch had gone over early on, my brother thought. And I knew that Mike Gatting led a tour at the exact moment FW De Klerk was releasing Nelson Mandela from prison, unbanning the fiercely anti-tour ANC and allowing black protest. That had to be an awkward moment.

They had been controversial and difficult and were occasionally still brought up in Private Eye if Gooch, Gatting or Geoffrey Boycott criticised others for disloyalty. But the details were almost entirely obscure to those of us who are old enough to remember but were too young to understand.

Never mind, we thought. There would be a book or two on the tours. We’d pick them up second hand, have a read and have a chat. And yet……(and you may be ahead of me here)……. there wasn’t a book on the rebel tours.

Where cricket’s other great crises, Bodyline and Packer, have received extensive analysis the rebel tours have scarcely been examined.  In particular the cricket itself, despite featuring some colossal figures, has received virtually no attention at all.

Having researched and written The Rebel Tours, my incomprehension has only grown. They are a unique sporting phenomenon. Even without the sport itself, just a handful of the ingredients are fascism, locusts, a boycott, G Boycott, greed, secret codes, covert international travel, media hysteria, political corruption, death threats and the fall of apartheid. The ferocity of the controversy beggars belief looking back now.

So what exactly has put people off?

The most obvious explanation is regret. The cricket itself is a source of curiosity rather than admiration. Many politicians, administrators and writers – particularly in the UK – have good reason to stare at their hands if their children ever ask, ‘What did you do to oppose apartheid, Daddy?’ Ali Bacher himself has admitted he didn’t understand the full South African context until 1990. Two decades on it is rare to hear a defence of the tours from anyone but a former tourist.

But the fact that not everyone emerges from the story with a medal on their breast and a song in their heart is hardly reason not to tell it. Many protagonists were wary of involvement in the book, no doubt fearing a scandal-ridden polemic handed down from a moral high horse. However I’ve resisted the urge to show everybody in the worst possible light without shying away from the often awkward and sometimes awful truth of the tours.

If nothing else you will hopefully be astounded reading The Rebel Tours that no-one has done this before. I know I still am.


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In 1968 cricket was at the forefront of global opposition to apartheid. The D’Oliveira affair proved a watershed in sanctions against South Africa, leading to an international boycott on sporting links. This sporting boycott was described by many as the most effective of all attempts to discredit the apartheid regime.

Yet the boycott was repeatedly breached by high-profile cricket tours. Teams from England, Sri Lanka, the West Indies and Australia defied sanctions to visit the sport-hungry republic. In doing so they earned enormous salaries but these were matched by the disrepute; no sportsmen in history had generated greater front-page controversy or criticism.

Instantly the tours became the currency of world politics. Inside South Africa matches were billed as internationals to stand comparison with any Test in the world; outside they were labelled triumphs for either freedom or tyranny.

Behind the furore the cricket endured – and featured some of the game’s most illustrious names: Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards, Geoffrey Boycott and Graham Gooch, Lawrence Rowe and Sylvester Clarke, and Kim Hughes and Terry Alderman were among the many leading players to take part in fascinating matches often attended by capacity crowds.

The fortunes of apartheid and cricket remained entwined to the very end when a final rebel party, led by Mike Gatting, was tempted to South Africa in 1990. Cricket and politics collided with formidable force once again. As FW De Klerk prepared to release Nelson Mandela, non-white South Africa began to vent decades of frustration and fury with English cricketers the focal point.

The ‘rebel tours’ are cricket’s forgotten crisis. They brought an essentially parochial game into global disrepute, ‘private’ tours earning those who took part public opprobrium, political sanctions and in some cases personal ruin. The Rebel Tours – Cricket’s Crisis of Conscience examines all sides of this remarkable story, narrating events both off the field and on to provide the essential account of a game and a world now long forgotten.

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Peter May biog

Peter May is the author of The Rebel Tours and a writer for Cricket365.com.

He is no relation to his namesake, the former England captain PBH May. But he would have made a better chairman of selectors in 1988 despite being in junior school at the time.

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Tristan Holme biog

Tristan Holme was the researcher for The Rebel Tours. He writes for Cricket365.com.

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